The Current Digital Divide–Instant Gratification Anyone?

When a link to my daughter’s online wedding registry was sent to some aunts and uncles, it created some confusion. They had never seen an online registry before and couldn’t figure out how to find the gift list or how to purchase something online. This made me start wondering–what is the digital divide between the young “worker bees” and their parents who have to become tech-savvy on the Internet?

The current trend in wedding planning is creating a website–a sort of mini-Facebook page dedicated to posting photos, registering gifts, mentioning the “Save the Date” and wedding reception site plans, as well as giving “updates”. This is how the betrothed communicates in more detail than merely the conventional wedding announcement by snail-mail (still in vogue), telephone calls and face-to-face communication. Now there is constant digital communication with everyone, provided everyone opts to go online to navigate the website.

Much has been said about social networking as an instant but impersonal connection to friends, associates, and strangers. In other words, being endlessly available but seldom really present. There is even a website –Grubwithus–which lets the Internet user browse through lists of dinners in cities, buy a ticket for a particular night, post a few personal facts, and then join strangers at a restaurant for dinner–all in the hope of meeting someone new. It’s “digital barhopping meets personal dining”. The concept fascinates me–picturing small groups of people drinking, eating around the table, all on smart cell phones tethered to the palm of their hands. Does this avoid striking up a conversation in person–a truly scary situation for the shy, and also the not so shy? Does a pre-arranged dinner date with strangers help force the socially awkward to the ultimate goal– face-to-face interaction, so precious and rare? Or does social networking really decrease opportunities for friendship by reducing everyone on your “friends list” to reading the same “updates” that strangers and mere acquaintances also see online?

Those who stubbornly refuse to play are increasingly isolated, the same way that someone without an answering machine or voice mail is (arrogantly?) announcing “stay away” if you can’t take the time to give me a call until you reach me. A new digital divide has been created– between a generation of Internet users and those who still want to go from store to store to buy their wedding presents, appreciate the teller’s smile at the local bank branch, and like the feel of turning the pages of a “real book”.

The upside of digital communications is that the response and the gratification are instantaneous. Our family and friends can know a lot about our daughter’s wedding, even those who cannot attend or were not invited. This lets them know we want to share our excitement. The downside is we are not sharing this information in a more personal way, but can we really do that except with only a very few? Hurt feelings perhaps are diminished with more electronic messages at the same time that a de-personalization of parts of our lives also is happening. An equilibrium still awaits.

“Bridesmaids”–Maid of Dishonor, Never the Bride

This is a female version of “Hangover” but much, much better. “Bridesmaids”, the new movie produced by Judd Apatow of “40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” fame, has crisp, brilliant comic writing by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo together with superb comedic timing by Wiig, Maya Rudolph and a perfectly cast team of supporting actresses –a hilarious, knockout performance by Melissa McCarthy especially. McCarthy dominates every scene she’s in with her over-the-top sexual and verbal attacks. For women who enjoy a “girls night out” to roar with snort-laughs that make you cry, and for all men who also enjoy raunchy unexpected gross-out scenes from some of the most talented comediennes today, this movie is for you!

Wiig plays Annie, who has not had much luck –in her love life, her work, her roommates, with her mother or her friends…except for her best friend from childhood, Lillian (delectably played by the winning Maya Rudolph.) The story is a rather simple one rehashed many times before –“girl rivalry”. This time it is the “new girl in town”–Helen (played to perfection by Rose Byrne) who represents change for Annie in terms of who she is and how she identifies herself with relation to her best friend. Comedy and pathos touchingly intermingle as we cringe to see Annie, Lillian’s designated maid of honor, try to compete on unfamiliar turf with Helen: couturier dress selection, fine dining, one-upmanship in gifts, to name only a few of the most hilarious, but also fiercely moving, scenes. The sweet Irish charm of a smitten cop (an endearing role by Chris O’Dowd), only underscores how hurt and out of control Annie really is.

I thought “Bridesmaids” would be silly, maybe even stupid, but the script proved to be brilliant in the most unexpected moments. The screenwriters were astute in not playing only for laughs. The opening sex scene with Kristen Wiig and a wonderfully clueless cad (Jon Hamm) was enough to put this viewer securely on Wiig’s side of the story for the rest of the film, while simultaneously laughing so hard tears rolled down my cheeks so I consequently missed the next set of zingers. Will have to watch this movie a second time to get the full dialogue! The incredibly fast pace of slicing morsels of humor is extraordinary!

This movie is not for everyone. It has vulgar, physical comedy that doesn’t appeal to anyone who cannot channel their “inner teenage self”. However, if you want to see a comedy that heals wounds while making you laugh and watch Kristen Wiig give the performance of her lifetime, then make sure you see this movie. Her brilliant comic talent (and writing) needs to be in more challenging venues than her current long-time gig on “Saturday Night Live”. It’s time for her to move on…to more creative adventures following her debut in this comic gem!

“Midnight in Paris” – That Was Then, This is Now

Written and directed by Woody Allen, this romantic comedy is vintage Woody Allen. I love Woody Allen, but I don’t really, really, really love Woody Allen to the point that I think everything he does is brilliant and witty. He has had some real dogs. How many people have suffered through “Cassandra’s Dream”, for example, as I have? Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about “Midnight in Paris”.

The story opens with a young couple, Gil Pender (brilliantly played by Owen Wilson), and his fiancée Inez (believably played by Rachel McAdams in an unsympathetic role), traveling to Paris with her parents on a business trip. It is obvious from the outset that the couple is not suited for each other. Gil, a successful but dissatisfied Hollywood screenwriter, hopes to give up his Hollywood gig to write his first novel. Inez does not understand why.

At midnight Gil leaves his fiancée and her family to walk alone on a starry, rainy moonlit night saturated with golden hued tones the camera lovingly lingers onto the City of Light. Gil gets into a vintage 1920s roadster when some friendly partygoers beckon to him and is transported to the golden of cultural icons: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray to name only a few.

“Midnight in Paris” is, most of all, a comic walk down memory lane, for those viewers who can catch literary and artistic allusions to the period. A few examples: Hemingway speaks in sentence structures characteristic of his prose. Dali and Man Ray are called “not normal” surrealists. Gertrude Stein is the matriarch of a cultural elites’ salon with her lover Alice. Adriana, mistress of Picasso, played by the radiant Marion Cotillard, thrusts the pivotal lunge into the heart of this film when she asks Gil why he loves the 1920s. Gil utters the mantra embedded in all of Woody Allen’s movies–“Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying because life is a little unsatisfying.”

Gil wakes up from his longing for a “golden age” through a series of overdone flashbacks. Like his mediocre movies over the past three decades, Woody Allen doesn’t seem to know when to stop the repetition. Unlike “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, which I loved, this movie is the old Woody Allen genre, overwrought and lecturing like some old academic who has lost his audience. But this film is much better than most in the last ten years or so, perhaps on a par with “Match Point”–that is to say, good but not great. Owen Wilson, who actually channels Woody Allen’s famously high-pitched whiny voice (if you close your eyes,) should star as Woody Allen’s alter ego in all his future work. Who knew Owen Wilson’s delightful voice in rom-coms is an echo of Allen’s?

What, for me, saves this film is that “Midnight in Paris” is a palpable love letter to Paris, not only cinematic clichés of the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, and the Louvre, but shots filled with so much affection for narrow street cafes and even the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. This nostalgic tour of Paris together with some of the literary scene of the 1920s is worth the price of the movie ticket!

“The Princess of Montpensier”–Where’s the There There?

Based on a 1662 novella, “The Princess of Montpensier” opens with a savage battle scene during the French civil war between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots) in the year 1562. Marie de Mézières, a beautiful young princess (who looks like a combination of Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman), reluctantly submits to an arranged marriage to young Prince Philippe, Duc de Montpensier, as dictated by politics and the aristocratic exchange of women for more wealth and power.

Haunted by the handsome lover Henri (Duc de Grise) from her adolescence, the Princess of Montpensier struggles in a romantic drama of duty, passion, religion and war. Romantic love does not exist for her (or for any noblewoman of the period) and the Princess could never hope to marry her lover Henri. But marriage without love encourages love outside marriage. Nonetheless, the princess, at first, struggles to be happy with Prince Philippe.

On their wedding night the young couple have no privacy. In an unsettling scene Marie stands naked in front of her father who inspects her before her husband. Philippe soon leaves for the battlefield, assigning his former tutor and mentor, the Comte de Chabannes, the task of educating Marie in accordance with her new status as a visitor to court. Chabannes is no ordinary tutor. Considered by both Catholics and Huguenots to be a traitor, Chabannes is rescued by the young Prince Philippe and brought to court to tutor the princess. He has rejected war, disgusted with violence in the name of religion. “How can people of the same blood and faith kill each other in the name of Christ?’’ he mourns, recalling his killing of a pregnant woman.

Chabannes falls in love with the intellectually curious young princess as does the Duc d’Anjou, brother to the king and cousin to both the princess and Henri. The Duc d’Anjou is used to taking what he wants and plots a deception worthy of Shakespeare.

From a purely visual perspective, there is exquisite set designs, lighting and costumes which provides rich layers of authenticity of life in mid-16th century Europe. The setting is lush but distant with historical references most of us cannot access: the religious wars, Queen Mother Catherine (who is a Medici) or Catholic theology (references to Gregory Chrysostom, for example). This historical distance demands a story so tightly woven that it can compensate for gaps in knowledge of sixteenth century French history. “The Princess of Montpensier” is intended to be a classic commentary of manners, especially of aristocratic and masculine control over female relatives, draining their souls of love, liberty and hope. However, It’s a subject that other films and television programs have covered to greater effect. To name a few, “The Tudors”, “Rome” and “The Borgias” among historical dramatizations in television and “Elizabeth”, “Mrs. Brown”, and “The Crown Prince” in recent films.

I wanted to like this movie more: to be transfixed, pulled in by the characters, warming to the plight of the princess’s fate. But, the characters never completely develop. Just when this viewer expected the three primary male characters to follow their hearts…or their minds…they contradict their own best interests without explanation as to motive or psychology. I expected to be swept away by the conflict between duty and passion, what Pascal famously asserted less than a century after the novella was written: “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know”. In “The Princess of Montpensier” the evocation of the princess’s heart and the morals of the two dukes, but most notably, Chabannes, are left disjointed and without a pattern consistent with their natures rendered earlier in the film. As the film moves onward, instead of getting better, as I hoped, it unravels, both in terms of character development and in enticing the viewer to understand the sorrows and complexities the story is attempting to unfold.

“Irina Palm”: How Desperate Can You Get?

When I saw the DVD of this movie with the opening menu, I was not quite sure what I was in for. Was this going to be soft porn or an indie film with an unexpected story to tell? As it turned out, “Irina Palm” is so idiosyncratic and original–but not for everyone–that I wasn’t sure if I should recommend it to friends next door who love movies as much as we do. But I did, and they really enjoyed it too!

I’m not quite sure how I found this obscure 2007 movie, but I think it was mentioned in an article I read about legendary rocker Marianne Faithfull (of “As Tears Go By” and Broken English fame) who stars as Maggie, a working-class fifty-or-sixty-something grandmother who is desperate to cover the cost of her critically-ill grandson’s experimental medical operation. Maggie asks for a bank loan but she has no assets to provide as collateral. When denied one loan and prospective job after another, a dejected Maggie resigns herself to exploring the underground sex trade of London and learns to provide “services”. Her no-nonsense boss Miki gives her the “professional” name, “Irina Palm,” the same name as his first girlfriend. Soon men are lining up for Irina, the number-one attraction, so much so that another proprietor offers her an even more generous offer to be his employee at another “salon”.

This movie protrays vividly, without sermonizing, what you will or must do to save the life of someone you truly love. The lack of empathy by those not in such a situation and who cannot imagine what desperation can demand is everywhere–in friends and close relatives. “Irina Palm” presents a range of reactions to Maggie’s work: from her son, his wife, the little boy who knows only that his grandma has a secret, and her close friends. Even a co-worker, who is desperate herself, cannot recognize the degree of desperation that Maggie has encased in every cell of her body.

Co-produced by production companies from five countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Germany and France), “Irina Palm” premiered, to great acclaim, at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. In a controlled performance worthy of international recognition, Marianne Faithfull did receive a Best Actress nomination for her role by the European Film Awards commission.